Global Austerity Alert: Looming Budget Cuts in 2021-25 and Alternatives

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Opinion

Map of countries with projected austerity cuts in 2021-2022, in terms of GDP, based on IMF fiscal projections. Credit: I. Ortiz and M. Cummins, 2021

NEW YORK and NAIROBI, Apr 15 2021 (IPS) – Last week Ministers of Finance met virtually at the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to discuss policies to tackle the pandemic and socio-economic recovery.


But a global study just published by the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University, international trade unions and civil society organizations, sounds an alert of an emerging austerity shock: Most governments are imposing budget cuts, precisely at a time when their citizens and economies are in greater need of public support.

Analysis of IMF fiscal projections shows that budget cuts are expected in 154 countries this year, and as many as 159 countries in 2022. This means that 6.6 billion people or 85% of the global population will be living under austerity conditions by next year, a trend likely to continue at least until 2025.

The high levels of expenditures needed to cope with the pandemic have left governments with growing fiscal deficit and debt. However, rather than exploring financing options to provide direly-needed support for socio-economic recovery, governments—advised by the IMF, the G20 and others—are opting for austerity.

The post-pandemic fiscal shock appears to be far more intense than the one that followed the global financial and economic crisis a decade ago. The average expenditure contraction in 2021 is estimated at 3.3% of GDP, which is nearly double the size of the previous crisis. More than 40 governments are forecasted to spend less than the (already low) pre-pandemic levels, with budgets 12% smaller on average in 2021-22 than those in 2018-19 before COVID-19, including countries with high developmental needs like Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Kiribati, Liberia, Libya, Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The dangers of early and overly aggressive austerity are clear from the past decade of adjustment. From 2010 to 2019, billions of people were affected by reduced pensions and social security benefits; by lower subsidies, including for food, agricultural inputs and fuel; by wage bill cuts and caps, which hampered the delivery of public services like education, health, social work, water and public transport; by the rationalization and narrow-targeting of social protection programs so that only the poorest populations received smaller and smaller benefits, while most people were excluded; and by less employment security for workers, as labor regulations were dismantled. Many governments also introduced regressive taxes, like consumption taxes, which further lowered disposable household income. In many countries, public services were downsized or privatized, including health. Austerity proved to be a deadly policy. The weak state of public health systems—overburdened, underfunded and understaffed from a decade of austerity—aggravated health inequalities and made populations more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Today, it is imperative to watch out for austerity measures with negative social outcomes. After COVID-19’s devastating impacts, austerity will only cause more unnecessary suffering and hardship.

Austerity is bad policy. There are, in fact, alternatives even in the poorest countries. Instead of slashing spending, governments can and must explore financing options to increase public budgets.

First, governments can increase tax revenues on wealth, property, and corporate income, including on the financial sector that remains generally untaxed. For example, Bolivia, Mongolia and Zambia are financing universal pensions, child benefits and other schemes from mining and gas taxes; Brazil introduced a tax on financial transactions to expand social protection coverage.

Second, more than sixty governments have successfully restructured/reduced their debt obligations to free up resources for development. Third, addressing illicit financial flows such as tax evasion and money laundering is a huge opportunity to generate revenue. Fourth, governments can simply decide to reprioritize their spending, away from low social impact investments areas like defense and bank/corporate bailouts; for example, Costa Rica and Thailand redirected military expenditures to public health.

Fifth, another financing option is to use accumulated fiscal and foreign reserves in Central Banks. Sixth, attract greater transfers/development assistance or concessional loans. A seventh option is to adopt more accommodative macroeconomic frameworks. And eighth, governments can formalize workers in the informal economy with good contracts and wages, which increases the contribution pool and expands social protection coverage.

Expenditure and financing decisions that affect the lives of millions of people cannot be taken behind closed doors at the Ministry of Finance. All options should be carefully examined in an inclusive national social dialogue with representatives from trade unions, employers, civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders.

#EndAusterity is a global campaign to stop austerity measures that have negative social impacts. Since 2020, more than 500 organizations and academics from 87 countries have called on the IMF and Ministries of Finance to immediately stop austerity, and instead prioritize policies that advance gender justice, reduce inequality, and put people and planet first.

Isabel Ortiz is Director of the Global Social Justice Program at Joseph Stiglitz’s Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University, former Director at the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF
Matthew Cummins is senior economist who has worked at UNDP, UNICEF and the World Bank.

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Studying Marine Life’s Brief Break from Human Noise

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Green Economy, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Hydrophone launch. Credit: The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO)

NEW YORK, Apr 15 2021 (IPS) – Travel and economic slowdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic have combined to brake shipping, seafloor exploration, and many other human activities in the ocean, creating a unique moment to begin a time-series study of the impacts of sound on marine life.


Our community of scientists has identified more than 200 non-military ocean hydrophones worldwide and hopes to make the most of the unprecedented opportunity to pool their recorded data into the 2020 quiet ocean assessment and to help monitor the ocean soundscape long into the future.

Our aim is a network of 500 hydrophones capturing the signals of whales and other marine life while assessing the racket levels of human activity. Combined with other sea life monitoring methods such as animal tagging, the work will help reveal the extent to which noise in “the Anthropocene seas” impacts ocean species, which depend on sound and natural sonar to mate, navigate and feed across the ocean.

Sound travels far in the ocean and a hydrophone can pick up low frequency signals from hundreds, even thousands of kilometres away.

Assessing the risks of underwater sound for marine life requires understanding what sound levels cause harmful effects and where in the ocean vulnerable animals may be exposed to sound exceeding these levels.

In 2011, experts began developing the International Quiet Ocean Experiment (IQOE), launched in 2015 with the International Quiet Ocean Experiment Science Plan. Among our goals: to create a time series of measurements of ambient sound in many ocean locations to reveal variability and changes in intensity and other properties of sound at a range of frequencies.

The plan also included designating 2022 “the Year of the Quiet Ocean.” Due to COVID-19, however, the oceans are unlikely to be as quiet as they were in April, 2020 for many decades to come.

COVID-19 reduced sound levels more than we dreamed possible. IQOE, therefore, is focusing project resources to encourage study of changes in sound levels and effects on organisms that occurred in 2020, based on observations from hundreds of hydrophones worldwide in 2019-2021.

Of the 231 non-military hydrophones identified to February 2021, the highest concentrations are found along the North American coasts — Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic — Hawaii, Europe, and Antarctica, with some scattered through the Asia-Pacific region.

Several have agreed to their geographic coordinates and other metadata being shown on the IQOE website (https://www.iqoe.org/systems).

Sparse, sporadic deployment of hydrophones and obstacles to integrating measurements have narrowly limited what we confidently know.

We are therefore creating a global data repository with contributors using standardized methods, tools and depths to measure and document ocean soundscapes and effects on the distribution and behavior of vocalizing animals.

New software, MANTA (at https://bit.ly/3cVNUox), developed by researchers across the USA and led by the University of New Hampshire, will help standardize ocean sound recording data from collaborators, facilitating its comparability, pooling and visualization.

As well, an Open Portal to Underwater Sound (OPUS), is being tested at Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany to promote the use of acoustic data collected worldwide, providing easy access to MANTA-processed data. The aggregated data will permit soundscape maps of entire oceans.

Meanwhile, scientists over the past decade have developed powerful methods to estimate the distribution and abundance of vocalizing animals using passive acoustic monitoring.

The fledgling hydrophone network contributes to the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), a network of observing assets monitoring currents, temperature, sea level, chemical pollution, litter, and other concerns worldwide.

Precious chance

Seldom has there been such a chance to collect quiet ocean data in the Anthropocene Seas. COVID-19 drastically decreased shipping, tourism and recreation, fishing and aquaculture, naval and coast guard exercises, offshore construction, port and channel dredging, and energy exploration and extraction. The concurrent price war that caused oil prices to dive to zero further quieted maritime energy activities.

The last comparable opportunity followed the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, which disrupted not just air travel; they also led to a shipping slowdown and ocean noise reduction, prompting biologists to study stress hormone levels in endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy.

With their 2001 data, research revealed higher September stress hormone levels over the next four years as the whales prepared to migrate to warmer southern waters where they calve, suggesting that the industrialized ocean causes chronic stress of animals.

We are on the way to timely, reliable, easily understood maps of ocean soundscapes, including the exceptional period of April 2020 when the COVID virus gave marine animals a brief break from human clatter.

Let’s learn from the COVID pause to help achieve safer operations for shipping industries, offshore energy operators, navies, and other users of the ocean.

Additional information about MANTA is available at https://bitbucket.org/CLO-BRP/manta-wiki/wiki/Home, and about the IQOE at https://bit.ly/3sDTkd

We invite parties in a position to help to join us in this global effort to assess the variability and trends of ocean sound and the effects of sound on marine life.

*Jesse Ausubel is the IQOE project originator and Director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University, New York City; Edward R. Urban Jr of the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research is the IQOE Project Manager

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Generation Equality: Women’s Leadership as a Catalyst for Change, Say 49 UN Women Envoys

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Opinion

This article has been co-authored and signed by 49 UN women Ambassadors*

UN Women announces the theme for International Women’s Day, 8 March 2021 (IWD 2021) as, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world. Credit: UN Women/Yihui Yuan

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 1 2021 (IPS) – March, women’s history month, closes with the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico and against the background of significant setbacks on the empowerment of women caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


From our seats in the General Assembly and our screens at home we have seen it growing: the increase in deaths; gender-based, including intimate partner, violence; abuse of women and girls who speak out; the widening of the gender gap for access to digital technologies; the loss of jobs, the decrease of women’s participation in public life and decision-making; disrupted access to essential health care; increase in child marriage; and the diminished access to education.

Day by day in this yearlong battle against the pandemic we have seen how women are impacted twice: first by the virus, and then by its devastating secondary effects.

We are 49 women ambassadors representing countries from all regions of the world, and we believe that such a reality is simply intolerable. Here, we tell that story and what needs to be done to urgently recover the hard-won gains of recent years.

The COVID-19 crisis has a woman’s face.

The face of women nurses, doctors, scientists, care-givers, sanitation workers, and of those leading the response to the pandemic. Women are on the front line: As leaders delivering effectively with vision and care.

But also, as victims of structural vulnerabilities and of violence and abuse.

The “shadow pandemic” of exploitation and abuse, including domestic and intimate partner violence, should be a jarring wake-up call to us all. The latest WHO data show that 1 in 3 women experience intimate partner violence during their lifetime, while the UN reports that women with disabilities have four times the risk of experiencing sexual violence in comparison to women without disabilities.

Women will also bear the heaviest toll of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic because they often carry the responsibility for unpaid dependent care and are over-represented in jobs most affected by the crisis – hospitality, tourism, health, and trade.

The lack of women’s participation in society threatens to delay the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Politically-motivated gender-based violence online and offline is a barrier to women’s ability to participate fully and equally in democratic processes.

Moreover, the persistently high rate of grave violations of women’s rights worldwide is appalling.

Against this background, this March, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) focused on two issues: fighting gender-based violence, and scaling up women’s full and effective participation at all levels and in all sectors.

“Gender equality: From the Biarritz Partnership to the Beijing+25 Generation Equality* Forum”, hosted by France and Mexico ahead of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, 2019. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Meaningful participation of women in politics, institutions and public life is the catalyst for that transformational change, which benefits society as a whole. Only four countries in the world have a parliament that is at least 50% women.

Worldwide only 25% of all parliamentarians are women. Women serve as heads of state or government in only 22 countries today, and 119 countries have never had a woman leader.

According to UNESCO, 30% of the world’s researchers are women. While 70% of the health and social care workforce are women, they make up only 25% of leaders in the global health sector.

Current projections show that if we continue at the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years. These figures speak of unacceptable barriers and bottlenecks that continue to block women’s participation.

As the Secretary-General of the UN says, parity is ultimately a question of power. As women, we are often reluctant to use this word. But as women ambassadors at the UN, representing countries from around the world, it is a word we cannot and will not be too shy to use.

Power is not an end in itself: it is the power to change things, to act and have equal opportunities to compete. While as women Ambassadors we are still under-represented here in New York – only 25% of Permanent Representatives are women – we are committed to being a driving force to shift mindsets. We are long past the point where women should have to justify their seat at the table.

A large body of research and scientific literature provide unequivocal evidence of the value of integrating women’s perspectives in decision-making. Countries led by women are dealing with the pandemic more effectively than many others.

Peace processes and peace agreements mediated with the active participation of women are more durable and comprehensive. Yet women make up only 13% of negotiators, 6% of mediators and 6% of signatories in formal peace processes.

When women have equal opportunities in the labor force, economies can unlock trillions of dollars. Yet last year, the International Labor Organization found that women were 26% less likely to be employed than men. In 2020 only 7.4% of Fortune 500 companies were run by women.

Worldwide, women only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, while the gender gap in internet access grew from 11% in 2013 to 17% in 2019, reaching 43% in the least developed countries.

The so-called “motherhood penalty” pushes women into the informal economy, casual and part-time work. After slow but steady gains over the last few decades, COVID-19 has forced millions of women out of the formal labor market.

The solution to this will not occur spontaneously nor by magic. We need positive action. We need data disaggregated by sex and age so we can better analyze the scope of the problem; we need targeted policies and earmarked investments.

We have to strengthen support services for survivors of abuse, as well as prevent violence and end impunity. And we need to reduce the digital divide and promote access for women to information and public life.

We must rebalance the composition of decision-making bodies. We need to integrate gender into the design and implementation of recovery plans. We need to ensure the availability, accessibility, quality, and continuity of health services for women, including sexual and reproductive health services.

Social protection programmes should be gender responsive and account for the differential needs of women and girls. We need to promote access for women to decent work and overcome the choice between family and work that is too often imposed on women. Women should have targeted support for entrepreneurship and investment in education that guarantees equal access.

This should not only start with women, but with girls. Getting more girls into school, including back into school following the pandemic, improving the quality of education girls receive, and ensuring all girls get quality education: this will enable female empowerment and gender equality, which will be critical for the effective participation of future generations of women. We must make justice accessible to all women and end impunity for sexual violence.

This will also require role models. As women ambassadors, we bear testament to young generations of girls and women across the world showing that, like us, they can make it. No career and no goal are off-limits for them, as they are in all their diversities, nor beyond their capacities.

Parity is not a zero-sum game but a common cause and a pragmatic imperative. Men can be and are our allies in achieving parity. We look forward to continuing momentum on accelerating progress on achieving gender equality through the Generation Equality Forum and its Action Coalitions. Let us together set the stage for an inclusive, equal, global recovery. Let us make this generation “Generation Equality”.

There’s no more time to lose. We’ve lost enough to COVID already.

*List of participating Ambassadors, (including one Chargé d’affaires, a.i.) who co-authored this article (and the day they took office)

AFGHANISTAN H.E. Mrs. Adela Raz (8 March 2019); ALBANIA H.E. Ms. Besiana Kadare (30 June 2016); ANDORRA H.E. Mrs. Elisenda Vives Balmaña (3 November 2015); ANGOLA H.E. Ms. Maria de Jesus dos Reis Ferreira (21 May 2018); ARGENTINA H.E. Ms. María del Carmen Squeff (31 August 2020); BANGLADESH H.E. Ms. Rabab Fatima (6 December 2019); BARBADOS H.E. Ms. H. Elizabeth Thompson (30 August 2018); BHUTAN H.E. Ms. Doma Tshering (13 September 2017); BRUNEI DARUSSALAM H.E. Ms. Noor Qamar Sulaiman (18 February 2019); BULGARIA H.E. Ms. Lachezara Stoeva (17 February 2021); CHAD H.E. Ms. Ammo Aziza Baroud (11 December 2020); CZECH REPUBLIC H.E. Mrs. Marie Chatardová (2 August 2016); DOMINICA H.E. Ms. Loreen Ruth Bannis-Roberts (22 August 2016); EL SALVADOR H.E. Mrs. Egriselda Aracely González López (21 August 2019); ERITREA H.E. Ms. Sophia Tesfamariam (5 September 2019); GREECE H.E. Ms. Maria Theofili (13 September 2017) ; GRENADA H.E. Ms. Keisha A. McGuire (12 April 2016); GUYANA H.E. Mrs. Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett (2 October 2020); HUNGARY H.E. Ms. Zsuzsanna Horváth (16 February 2021); IRELAND H.E. Ms. Geraldine Byrne Nason (18 August 2017); ITALY H.E. Ms. Mariangela Zappia (13 August 2018); JORDAN H.E. Ms. Sima Sami Bahous (22 August 2016); KYRGYZSTAN H.E. Ms. Mirgul Moldoisaeva (12 April 2016); LEBANON H.E. Ms. Amal Mudallali (15 January 2018); LITHUANIA H.E. Ms. Audra Plepytė (18 August 2017); MADAGASCAR Ms. Vero Henintsoa Andriamiarisoa (Chargé d’affaires, a.i.); MALDIVES H.E. Ms. Thilmeeza Hussain (21 May 2019); MALTA H.E. Mrs. Vanessa Frazier (6 January 2020) ; MARSHALL ISLANDS H.E. Ms. Amatlain Elizabeth Kabua (5 July 2016); MICRONESIA H.E. Mrs. Jane J. Chigiyal (2 December 2011); MONACO H.E. Ms. Isabelle F. Picco (11 September 2009); MONTENEGRO H.E. Mrs. Milica Pejanović Đurišić (21 May 2018); NAURU H.E. Ms. Margo Reminisse Deiye (27 November 2020); NETHERLANDS H.E. Ms. Yoka Brandt (2 September 2020); NORWAY H.E. Ms. Mona Juul (14 January 2019); PANAMA H.E. Ms. Markova Concepción Jaramillo (16 November 2020); POLAND H.E. Ms. Joanna Wronecka (19 December 2017); QATAR H.E. Sheikha Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani (24 October 2013) ;RWANDA H.E. Mrs. Valentine Rugwabiza (11 November 2016); SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES H.E. Ms. Inga Rhonda King (13 September 2013); SLOVENIA H.E. Ms. Darja Bavdaž Kuret (18 August 2017); SOUTH AFRICA H.E. Ms. Mathu Theda Joyini (22 January 2021); SURINAME H.E. Ms. Kitty Monique Sweeb (19 June 2019) ; SWEDEN H.E. Ms. Anna Karin Eneström (6 January 2020) ; SWITZERLAND H.E. Mrs. Pascale Baeriswyl (26 June 2020); TURKMENISTAN H.E. Mrs. Aksoltan. Ataeva (23 February 1995); UNITED ARAB EMIRATES H.E. Mrs. Lana Zaki Nusseibeh (18 September 2013); UNITED KINGDOM H.E. Dame Barbara Woodward (2 December 2020); UNITED STATES OF AMERICA H.E. Ms. Linda Thomas-Greenfield (25 February 2021)

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Debt Moratoria in the Next Pandemic: Be Prepared, and Be Fair

Aid, Civil Society, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Credit: Temilade Adelaja via Communication for Development Ltd/CGAP, Washington DC

WASHINGTON DC, Mar 25 2021 (IPS) – Imagine it is 2025 and that, unfortunately, another pandemic is sweeping the world. Much like in the 2020 crisis, borrowers have seen their livelihoods upended and are struggling to repay loans.


One of the questions before policy makers amid this new crisis is whether to extend moratoria to distressed borrowers. In search of answers, they reflect on the world’s experience with the COVID-19 pandemic and whether moratoria were part of the solution. These policy makers conclude that they did some things right in 2020.

Just days into COVID-19 lockdowns, bank regulators in more than 115 countries granted special permission for financial services providers (FSPs) to extend moratoria to millions of borrowers, especially those with small business and consumer loans. These moratoria were the next best thing to cash in the wallet for borrowers who had lost their jobs or seen their business revenue plummet.

For lower-income countries, whose governments could ill afford welfare payments, moratoria became an important form of economic relief. And by relaxing provisioning on paused loans, these special moratoria also shored up FSPs’ balance sheets and prevented panic in financial systems.

Through the moratoria, the world’s economies put the shock-absorbing capacity of financial systems to good use.

But these policy makers also see that moratoria could have worked better in some respects. So, in 2025, as the world once again turns to moratoria, they are determined to learn the lessons of the past and make moratoria work even better. What do they do differently?

Fair burden sharing

As public health authorities shutter the economy to stop the new pandemic, advocates for lower-income people are already calling on policy makers to spread the economic burden among those better able to bear it.

Policy makers know that moratoria on small loans (as well as evictions and mortgages) will shift some economic pain from lower-income families and small businesses onto banks and landlords — at least, temporarily.

But they recall that, in 2020, FSPs shifted the pain back to small borrowers by allowing interest to accrue and compound during moratoria. Ultimately, borrowers paid to pause their loans – often dearly.

Back in 2020, policy makers debated whether to shift some of the long-term burden of accrued and compounding interest away from borrowers, but it was difficult for them to find a workable solution.

In India, after much debate in the Supreme Court over who should pay this additional interest, the government found a remedy when it agreed to pay banks the compounding portion of borrowers’ interest incurred during moratoria. Implicitly, this decision made moratoria part of the government’s overall pandemic response while affirming the right of the banks to charge fully for delayed payments.

Fortunately, in 2025, several governments have included special provisions in their catastrophe protocols that pledge government funding for a portion of the interest that small loans accrue during moratoria.

This pledge helps to ensure policies intended to help low-income people don’t end up harming them. It has the added benefit of providing banks with a small amount of liquidity during the moratoria period.

Moratoria will also be fairer this time around because policy makers have universally agreed that borrowers should have the right to choose whether to accept or reject a moratorium offer. This was not always the case in 2020.

In some countries, regulators — anxious to prevent panic — and FSPs — wishing to avoid tedious case-by-case administration — promulgated blanket moratoria, even before obtaining agreement from borrowers.

However, some borrowers preferred to keep paying to avoid extra interest charges. In response to push back from borrowers on unilateral moratoria, authorities in Peru affirmed consumers’ right to unwind unwanted moratoria. Today, following this example, regulators the world over require FSPs to notify borrowers of moratoria offers and present them with the option to refuse.

Policy makers have also anticipated the challenge of maintaining borrowers’ standing with credit bureaus. When borrowers accept moratoria during a national emergency, it should not hurt their creditworthiness.

In 2020, there was confusion over how banks should report restructured loans to credit bureaus, how credit bureaus were to incorporate these loans into credit scores, and how new lenders were to use the information.

In India, FSPs simply didn’t report many loans for several months. Eventually, those problems were sorted out. Now, in 2025, credit bureaus follow well-understood protocols for handling loans in moratoria during emergencies.

Preparedness

The emergency protocols that the world’s banking authorities and FSPs put in place after the COVID-19 pandemic also address operational continuity and communications.

Back in 2020, economic lockdowns prevented in-person interactions between lenders and borrowers and often led to breakdowns in communication. In Uganda, loan officers could not meet with customers in the field, and transport restrictions prevented adequate staffing of branches and even call centers. FSPs transacting mainly in cash were caught especially flat-footed.

Thankfully, this problem is behind us now. The pandemic accelerated FSPs’ digitization plans across the world, and record numbers of borrowers started using mobile technology. FSPs serving lower-income customers now routinely communicate and transact digitally.

They have also upgraded their internal systems to handle the irregular schedules of loans in moratoria. And the expansion of digital infrastructure during and after COVID-19 now allows staff to work from home.

Consumer protection

As financial regulators and supervisors prepare for the new moratoria in 2025, they are better equipped to mitigate some of the consumer risks that appeared in 2020. They now use market monitoring tools, such as suptech, consumer phone surveys and mystery shopping, to assess consumer risks in real time. They can quickly spot issues such as abusive collections practices.

Nevertheless, both financial authorities and FSPs have learned from the previous crisis that ensuring good communication and transparency will be challenging. Moratoria are unfamiliar concepts, and the math is complicated.

Learning from 2020, when poor communication led to misunderstandings, mistakes and abuse, regulators have already issued consumer protection rules to ensure the public fully understands moratoria offers and their consequences.

Additionally, communications now flow not just to customers, but also from them. Policy makers are widely using tools that give consumers a collective voice and reveal what they are experiencing.

Several regulators have put consultative bodies in place to have a regular dialogue with consumers, and consumer associations regularly convey issues to them. Such tools proved useful in 2020.

In Peru, for example, the consumer protection agency INDECOPI listened systematically to customers and alerted regulators and FSPs to emerging abuses so that they could respond quickly.

Agility

The COVID-19 pandemic lasted much longer than anyone foresaw, and unanticipated implementation challenges arose. If policy makers learned one thing, was is that you can never anticipate all the ways an emergency will unfold.

Accordingly, the countries that were best prepared for the next pandemic were those that had established channels for authorities and FSPs to work together to respond to evolving conditions.

Source: Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) is a global partnership of more than 30 leading development organizations that works to advance the lives of poor people through financial inclusion.

*Elisabeth is the former managing director of the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion. She is a visiting fellow at the Financial Access Initiative and a consultant at CGAP.

*Eric Duflos, Senior Financial Sector Specialist, leads CGAP’s work on consumer protection, from policy, industry and customer perspectives, ensuring that financial services have positive outcomes for customers.

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The UN Food Systems Summit: How Not to Respond to the Urgency of Reform

Aid, Civil Society, Food & Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

At a critical juncture on the road to the UN Food Systems Summit, three UN rights experts warn that it will fail to be a ‘people’s summit’ unless it is urgently rethought.

NEW YORK, Mar 22 2021 (IPS) – Global food systems have been failing most people for a long time, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made a critical situation even worse. 265 million people are threatened by famine, up 50% on last year; 700 million suffer from chronic hunger; and 2 billion more from malnutrition, with obesity and associated diet-related diseases increasing in all world regions.


Michael Fakhri

Everyone agrees that we need urgent solutions and action. The convening of this year’s UN Food Systems Summit by Secretary General António Guterres was therefore welcome. However, as we move towards critical junctures on the road to the Summit, we remain deeply concerned that this ‘people’s summit’ will fail the people it claims to be serving.

After more than a year of deliberations, the Summit participants will meet this October in New York to present “principles to guide governments and other stakeholders looking to leverage their food systems” to support the Sustainable Development Goals. We will be told that the outcomes have been endorsed by the civil society groups who took part, with ‘solutions’ crowd-sourced from tens of thousands of people around the world. And if other solutions are not there, we will be told that this is because their proponents refused to come to the table.

But coming to the table to discuss ‘solutions’ is not as simple as it sounds. What if the table is already set, the seating plan non-negotiable, the menu highly limited? And what if the real conversation is actually happening at a different table?

These concerns are still as pressing today as they were on day one.

First, the Summit initially bypassed the bodies already doing the very hard work of governing global food systems. The UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) already has the structure that the Summit organizers have been hastily reconstructing: a space for discussing the future of food systems, a comprehensive commitment to the right to food, mechanisms for involving civil society and the private sector on their own terms, and a panel of experts regularly providing cutting-edge reports. In other words, everyone is already at the table. The Summit has flagrantly – and perhaps deliberately – shifted governments’ attention away from the CFS.

Hilal Elver

Second, the Summit’s rules of engagement were determined by a small set of actors. The private sector, organizations serving the private sector (notably the World Economic Forum), scientists, and economists initiated the process. The table was set with their perspectives, knowledge, interests and biases. Investors and entrepreneurs working in partnership with scientists framed the agenda, and governments and civil society actors were invited to work within those parameters. Inevitably, that has meant a focus on what the small group saw as scalable, investment-friendly, ‘game-changing’ solutions – the bread and butter of Davos. Reading between the lines, this means AI-controlled farming systems, gene editing, and other high-tech solutions geared towards large-scale agriculture.

As a result, the ideas that should have been the starting point for a ‘people’s summit’ have effectively been shut out. For over a decade, farmers, fishers, pastoralists, and food workers have been demanding a food system transformation rooted in food sovereignty and agroecology. This vision is based on redesigning, re-diversifying, and re-localizing farming systems. It requires that economic assumptions be questioned, human rights be protected, and power be rebalanced.

Some concessions have been made on the road to the Summit. But these changes have been too late, or too cosmetic, to impact meaningfully the process. Only in November was the CFS added to the Summit’s Advisory Committee. And only this month was the FAO’s Right to Food office invited to participate (with a limited mandate). Presumably there will be further changes at the margins: human rights will be mentioned in general terms, agroecology will be included as one of many solutions.

Olivier De Schutter

But this will not be enough to make the Summit outcomes legitimate for those of us — inside and outside the process — who remain skeptical. Having all served as UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, we have witnessed first-hand the importance of improving accountability and democracy in food systems, and the value of people’s local and traditional knowledge. It is deeply concerning that we had to spend a year persuading the convenors that human rights matter for this UN Secretary General’s Food Systems Summit. It is also highly problematic that issues of power, participation, and accountability (i.e. how and by whom will the outcomes be delivered) remain unresolved.

Those of us who came to the Summit table did so in the hope that we could fundamentally change the course. As the end-game approaches, we still hope that this is possible. But radical change is needed:

    ● The right to food must be central to all aspects of the Summit, with attention on holding those with power accountable;
    ● Agroecology should be recognized as a paradigm (if not the paradigm) for transforming food systems, alongside actionable recommendations to support agroecological transition;
    ● The CFS should be designated as the home of the Summit outcomes, and the place where it is discussed and implemented, using its inclusive participation mechanisms.

In other words, to make this a people’s summit, the table needs to be urgently re-set.

Michael Fakhri is the current UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
Hilal Elver served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2014-2020.
Olivier De Schutter served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2008-2014, and is the current UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, and co-chair of IPES-Food.

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Women Will Not Reach Parity at the Pinnacle of Power for Another 130 Years, Predicts UN

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María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés was only the fourth woman in the 76-year history of the United Nations to be elected President of the General Assembly, the UN’s main deliberative and policy-making body. She was the Foreign Minister of Ecuador. She is being congratulated by the outgoing President Miroslav Lajčák, (centre) and the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. September 2018. Credit: UN / Loey Felipe

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 12 2021 (IPS) – The United Nations says the highest levels of political power remain the furthest from achieving gender parity in an increasingly male-dominated power structure worldwide.


Women serve as Heads of State or Government in only 23 countries (10 women Heads of State and 13 women Heads of Government out of 193 UN member states), while 119 countries have never had a woman leader.

At the current rate, says a new report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, parity at the pinnacle of power will not be reached for another 130 years. (based on calculations of UN-Women data, as of 1 November 2020).

But this triggers the question: Does this also apply to the United Nations, which has never had a woman as Secretary-General, while only four women have been elected to lead the General Assembly– over a period of 76 years.?

Available research demonstrates that women’s and men’s education, political experience and ages upon entering executive office are similar.

Gendered perceptions that executive offices should be filled by men, and not on the basis of credentials, account for women’s severe underrepresentation at this level., according to the report which will go before the annual sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), March 15-26.
https://undocs.org/E/CN.6/2021/3

The CSW, described as the principal global intergovernmental body, exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, is a functional Commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Speaking on International Women’s Day March 8, Guterres singled out the progress made on gender parity under his administration.

“Overall, we in the United Nations are on a positive trajectory towards gender parity. Two decades after the General Assembly’s first deadline, we are finally making progress across the entire United Nations system. We achieved the goal of 50-50 gender parity amongst my Senior leadership, two years ahead of my commitment,” he said.

In the Secretariat, the proportion of women in the professional categories and above has increased to over 41 per cent from 37 per cent in 2017 – a steady annual increase. “This shows that our strategy works”.

In the Secretariat’s field operations, the gender balance is 31 percent women and 69 percent men.

Guterres also said: “We are taking steps to identify qualified women candidates to replace many of the 3,000 international staff who are retiring in the next eight years, the majority of whom are men. This includes measures to develop staff and build internal talent pipelines.”

In 1953, India’s Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, pictured at UN Headquarters alongside the then Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, was elected as the 8th and first woman President. Credit: UN / Albert Fox

Gender equality is a question of power. “We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture and male-dominated power structures. This has inevitably affected the institutional culture of the United Nations, and of diplomacy as a whole”, he declared.

But does that male-dominated power structure reach out to the office of the UN Secretary-General?

Ian Richards, a former president of the UN staff coordinating committee, told IPS there have been varied reactions from UN staff to the Secretary-General’s gender parity policy, particularly when it comes to downsizing in peacekeeping operations.

“However, this year many staff have been asking us if the Secretary-General plans to apply the gender parity policy to his own position, which up to now has only been filled by men. We don’t know how to answer them on this as it is outside our mandate,” said Richards.

“The Secretary-General may wish to address this question directly,” he added.

Barbara Adams, chair of the board of Global Policy Forum, told IPS: “It’s a relief to see that the Secretary-General is no longer equating gender parity with gender equality. As we know overcoming structural or institutional discrimination of any and all kinds extends to measures beyond individual appointments.”

The recognition of importance and impact of power dynamics is welcome, but “taking” power in the present setup is a bit of a contradiction in terms, she argued.

Perhaps the quote of Simone de Beauvoir would be of interest, said Adams, a former Associate Director of the Quaker United Nations Office in New York (1981–1988).

Considered one of the most pre-eminent French existentialist philosophers and writers, Simone de Beauvoir, once famously remarked: “The point is not for women simply to take power out of men’s hands, since that wouldn’t change anything about the world. It’s a question precisely of destroying that notion of power”.

  

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